High Costs of Low Rent

Group Tries to Hold Slumlords Accountable


The State's Residential Landlord Tenant Act was revised in 2009 and now provides that a tenant can request the municipality inspect the premises. The Seattle Code Enforcement office does a good job with this.

The way to hold landlords accountable is to educate tenants that if they are living with substandard housing, they have to 1) give notice in writing to the landlord about the specific issue and then 2) ask the municipality to inspect.

The municipality does not even have to red-tag the property. See RCW 59.18.115 and RCW 59.18.085.

Elizabeth Powell
The enforcement mechanism is at RCW 59.18.115 and RCW 59.18.085. The tenant asks the landlord to fix the issue in writing. If the landlord does not respond, the tenant requests the city/county to inspect and determine whether the issue exists and if it substantially interferes with the tenant's health and safety.

The landlord cannot prevent the inspection, but can attend if they want.

If the inspector determines that the issue does actually interfere with the tenant's health and safety, the remedy for the tenant is three month's rent, or $2K, whichever is more, plus their costs and all their reasonable attorney fees in cash or certified funds within seven days. The legislature makes it clear that no one should have to stay in substandard housing just because they cannot afford to move.

And in Seattle, the remedy is two month's rent ON TOP OF the states' three month's rent.

E Powell
E Powell, those laws are helpful, but the onus is on the tenant who will typically be undereducated about their rights and fearful of landlord reprisal.

Having random inspections of housing would prevent a tenant from having to live in a hazardous and stressful location in the first place. Anyone receiving rent for a property should be aware of the relevant landlord tenant laws. Many landlords choose to break them because they know their tenants are unaware and relatively powerless.
It could be worse? at least its not Juarez?

Its just those creeps who rent to kids who cant change a spark plug or put air in a tire.
Got any idea of how many dangerous cars are driving around Seattle? we need inspections! brakes, tires, lights and seatbelts. If there is any kind of life or injury threatening condition your landlord... oh wait.. well, Somebody should have to fix it before that car is driven even one mile! exceptions could be made for people who don't have enough money.
Fencesitter. Your concern about dangerous cars driving around is a valid one, but there are laws on the books that keep things from being a bigger problem than it is. If a customer comes into an auto repair shop, and the brakes are in such condition where they will not work properly, the customer has the choice of either getting it fixed there, or having the car leave on a tow truck. If the customer drove away, the shop would be liable.
Another step with tenants becoming second class citizens.

The city of Seattle cannot inspect my home. City Council want to make is mandatory to inspect my tenants homes.... for their safety? My tenants are opposed to this.

What the city is proposing and not mentioned in this article is City Council really wants to register rental units to make more money. Property owners will need to buy a business license, and pay for those inspections. Some of those costs will eventually be passed on to tenants. Supporting inspections translates into supporting higher rents.

What the city needs to do is INFORCE the laws already on the books. Not make new ones.

Also, last year Washington State began a inspection program that is NOT mandatory. Guess what? That works for everyone. Tenants register a complaint and their home gets inspected. If the inspectors see violations the owner is put on notice to correct those violations.

Remember, 10% of landlords are scumbags. Rent from the 90% who are not. Don't make new laws that will raise rents. There is no free lunch here. Tenants will subsidize the proposed new law.

You are well-versed in landlord-tenant law but in this case I think we need to consider the real-life consequences of a tenant requesting an inspection versus an inspection being mandated by the city.

If a landlord has refused to repair a substandard condition under 59.18.100 after being given written notice by a tenant, how do you think they are going to respond when the tenant calls the city out to inspect?

It is true that if the city condemns the unit the tenant is entitled to relocation assistance, but the more likely result is that the city finds a violation but the violation does not rise to that level.

So now the tenant, who may not be able to afford the time and/or money involved in moving, is stuck dealing with a pissed-off, law-breaking landlord who is highly likely to harrass the tenant if not pursue an illegal, retaliatory eviction. The relationship is not going to end well, and the tenant's basic need for shelter is at stake here.

No tenant is going to be able to take advantage of the option under RCW 59.18.115 to deposit rent into escrow without the assistance of an attorney. And if they don't know how to do that they have to continue paying the full amount of rent due every month even though the landlord has not repaired the substandard conditions. If the tenant wants to pursue an action for dimunition in rental value they have to take the landlord to small claims court.

If however, the inspection that led to the toxic relationship between the landlord and tenant was initiated by the city and not by the tenant, then the landlord is much less likely to take retaliatory action against the tenant.

What does a person do when they can only afford to rent from the 10% of landlords who are scumbags? Or they have bad credit or a past eviction?

Sounds like your tenants are living in a different world than the tenants who this proposed regulation is intended to protect.
David in Shoreline,

Good luck with that. You are aware that the unlawful detainer and residential-landlord tenant acts exist right? If you are renting out your property, you must submit to a certain amount of regulation, its part of the basic social contract governing our nation not to mention its the law. If you don't like it, invest in something else. The government most certainly has the right to pass this regulation but if you want to fight it in court you are welcome to. You're not going to win.
One more example of do-gooderism gone wild. It's complete overkill and hypocrisy from the usual suspects. Consider what the Shitty Council just did to the Roosevelt neighborhood. Told them to go fuck themselves because there was no choice but to give into some moneybags slumlord.

But now they're going to turn around and screw small landlords, and the lowest income tenants, with an inspection system that will raise costs and rents. And for what? To address a subset of what some consultant claims is 10% of the dwellings being somehow substandard.

Jesus H. Christ, don't any of these people, or the Stranger, have a single clue? Of COURSE the big developers will be on board! There's nothing more that they'd like than to clear out affordable cheap housing, and then declare a "crisis of affordable housing" that requires big government subsidies.

What suckers you people are. And then you wonder why Seattle becomes more and more a rich yuppie game with each passing year.
@12 that clearing out is actually slowing down as it been running its course for some years now? the 1% have that game plan down pat as do republicans who buy out all and everything. City's are for sale at goodwill prices.

In short the rich got richer and thus its time for Congress to make new laws to screw small investors and save the Big fish should the big fish fail?

But since Big Fish got Big Bank and and can pimp out the city's look for Clues that Romans are here.
@Washington Tenant:

These cases no longer require the City to condemn the rental. See RCW 59.18.085(3). The landlord can be as pissed as they want, but retaliation is unlawful and the harder the landlord fights, the more it costs them.

What it takes is a Code Inspector who has read the law and is prepared to advise the landlord that the rental falls below the acceptable threshhold. The landlord has seven days to come up with the relocation remedy, so there is no time for retaliation.

The legislative history of the sub-statute spells out that it is the intent of the legislature that landlords who have allowed their property to become hazardous should bear the cost of relocation, not the tenants. And it also specifically says the money is not to be considered income such that a low-income tenant might become disqualified from housing benefits.

It works. Yes, tenants need to know this exists. So do Code Inspectors.
What about the right to privacy? No one can enter my home without a search warrant because I own it. I was a tenant not that long ago and I can tell you that this wouldn't fly with me. Besides, you know the costs are going to be handed down to the tenant, so who is this really hurting?
@ Mister G

A+ Rant. I loved your work in Summer Heights High by the way.

You are right to wonder, who is going to pay for this? But you missed the target from that point on- any increased budget for DPD or a private company to do inspections will come from the taxpayers, so if you want to have that discussion lets have it.

But the only way this costs landlords money and increases rents is when it succeeds in forcing landlords to comply with the code. If you don't have a violation, it doesn't cost you anything personally to allow an inspection.

I think all tenants, and especially low-income tenants, would be glad to pay a little more for a habitable dwelling.
@ Miss Jo,

Unfortunately the exceptions the Supreme Court has carved out to the warrant requirement over the last 30 years are numerous and expansive. The home is still entitled to the highest level of respect but its not necessarily true that police need a search warrant to enter your home, depends on the circumstances. Not to mention the warrant generally acts as nothing more than a rubber stamp the way the current system is set up.

Regardless, any entry in this case seems reasonably related to a legitimate government purpose. DPD isn't going to be allowed to snoop around, they'd be limited to looking for violations.

What is the acceptable threshold that makes a dwelling "unlawful to occupy"?

Seems to be a high standard to me, what about violations that don't rise to that level?
#16, it will be financed with fees on landlords, who will pass them on. In so many words, the city will send a building inspector to every rental unit. This will trigger repairs that might or might not be critical, and then those costs will be passed through.

Here's an example. I left town for a few years, and rented out my house. Like many houses in Seattle, it had a basement floor that leaked during especially wet winters. I told every tenant: Don't put anything on the basement floor between October and March, because it might get wet.

Under this law, the city would have inspected the house, triggering thousands of dollars in repair costs. And undoubtedly there would be others, because my house was built in the 1920s and added onto in the '40s. If an inspector looks closely enough, he's going to find problems.

You and your shyster friends will cheer at the safety upgrade, but when affordable units vanish then you'll decry the lack of affordable housing and demand a tax levy. Better be careful what you wish for, because those levies might not be approved.

Not that you care. See, it's not about helping anyone for your crowd. It is about making yourself FEEL righteous, whatever the reality might be.
@ Washington Tenant: There are seven conditions that rise to the level of triggering the relocation remedy. They are in RCW 59 18 115, (3) I think.

If the structure is unsound; if the occupants are exposed to the weather; if the heating/ventilation is broken or not working properly; if the plumbing is broken or not working properly; if the electrical service is missing or hazardous; if a major appliance is not working, and any conditions that increase the risk of fire.

The other thing that will invoke the remedy is lack of permits. If a landlord has failed to apply for multi-family housing permission (especially in a single-family zone) and has multiple households living in one house, that will get the City's attention immediately. (N.B. separate households does not mean people sharing a kitchen and bath, it means carving rental units out of a house without planning permission).

In other words, this is not used when the tenant thinks the cabinets are outdated or the carpet is worn.

But it is very effective. The tenant can request the inspection and the landlord cannot prevent it.
"DPD isn't going to be allowed to snoop around, they'd be limited to looking for violations."

LOL. You've got to be kidding. DPD are professional snoopers. And there will be even more of them paid by the taxpayers to do that snooping. Did you get a permit for every little thing you did to turn your basement into an extra unit? They can compare all the records. Growing a little maryjane? Well, let's just have a closer look at those outlets. Probably need the fire department to join them for a look-see. Your home, rented or not, your castle? Bend over and spread-em fool.
Perhaps here you could begin a non-profit designed to clean up and repair slums without the assistance of slumlords. In that case, you could ask for federal grants. The slumlord eventually would become frightened of losing his property and attempt to step in.
Its more Republican B/S as there was nothing to help property owners until Obama slapped the banks up side the head and all the state can do is take tax and not give a penny to anything that is not State Inbred and related like hillbilly's from hell.

Property owners should be given a Tax break if the property is worn out and need of expensive repair as that "historic land mark" crap saves American History we could focus on "less law" and "more brains".

The International district and the Rainier valley have been far behind the development curve for sometime until it was just too gross and the polittypiggys could not hide it anymore.

Same with all slums as per the L.A. riots and Chicago's projects and Nawlins so poor they cant get away from a F5 hurricane even though the Mayor is having a Hurricane party and there are many buses siting in a parking lot.

The problem is a City County State Federal government that just takes and keeps taking until people cant deal or work around the ignorance.

Then the igmoanus bastards want to blame land lords who house "the poor" and blame crack heads and blame drugs for a run down crime ridden area that in no friggin way looks like the rest of Mayberry RFD.

Dont take no Dick Tracy to figure out who the Insane Criminals who are at fault are.

Once the value of the area is dirt cheap in come the Cracker Palace Construction Co. and the poor need to move.

Cracker Palace Construction Co. is building malls on the best agricultural soil for growing food in the Mid-west bread basket so you know the devils are heartless and brainless and just don't give a shit save for that all mighty dollar.


Every City in the Nation gets ripped off with the lies that go unchallenged in the media and all you need to due is click a mouse button to look at it with your own eyes.
Photograph EVERY SQUARE INCH OF THE PLACE before you rent it(including storage units--this presumes that you have decided TO rent.)
E.Powell, you have hit this problem right on the head, there is no education for tenants, tenants do not know that they have to document everything,most people will make a phone call explain the problem and request repairs, most times they make the repairs,but with the least amount of expense whether they are right or wrong as long as it goes away. How about making the landlords live in their own rentals, with all the problems they are making the tenants live with. put their family through what they are putting others through, question: will they leave the rental the way it is,or make the necessary repairs so their family is not put in danger.